Suicide is the leading cause of death for people in Australia aged between 15 and 44. Approximately 200 people in Australia attempt suicide every day and of those, on average, eight will die. Conversations about suicide are never easy. It can be incredibly hard to know whether to speak up to someone you’re worried about. If you suspect that someone is considering taking their own life, you may also feel confused and scared about what to do next.
However, there is one simple thing all of us can do to help reduce the stigma around suicide. That is, stop using the ‘c’ word. People don’t commit suicide.
It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when suicide was considered a crime. It’s even harder to believe that it wasn’t that long ago. In Victoria, it was only with the Crimes Act of 1958 that attempting suicide was no longer recognised as a criminal act. Before this, if a person took their own life, they could be refused a funeral or even have their possessions confiscated. Not to mention the scrutiny their family or friends were left to carry.
The criminal associations with suicide might be gone, but using the phrase ‘committed suicide’ is still common.
So why shouldn’t we use the 'c word' when it comes to suicide?
Susan Beaton, a Suicide Prevention Adviser in her research report on suicide and language, sums it up well: “We now live in a time when we seek to understand people who experience suicidal ideation, behaviours and attempts, and to treat them with compassion rather than condemn them. Part of this is to use appropriate, non-stigmatising terminology when referring to suicide.”
Instead of saying the word 'committed', try and use phrases like 'took their own life' or 'died by suicide'.
Beyond Blue research shows that people at risk of suicide want those close to them to listen and show they care. Having conversations and understanding their situation – or at least trying to – is key.
Mental health literacy has come a long way in the past few decades. If you’re still using the ‘c’ word, it’s time to update your vocab. It might seem like a small slip of the tongue to you, but it can have a serious isolating impact on someone going through a difficult time. The Conversations Matter website is a useful resource that helps you understand what to say and what not to say when it comes to suicide.
If you, or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you’re at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000 (Triple zero).
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